Monthly Archives: April 2011

Sir Ken Robinson

The end of this talk (LINK) seems clipped! Ah well. Quick comments. He starts by saying 2 things I don’t buy into about why we need schools 1) “How do we educate our children to take their place in the economies of the 21st century?” and 2) “How do we educate our children so they have a sense of cultural identity, so that we can pass on the cultural genes of our communities.”

First of all, I don’t like to think of my kids (or any other, or any people of any age for that matter) as cogs in an economy. Why not restate/reframe this on a personal level — we want our kids to grow up to be happy and effective adults — or something like that? I mean, does anyone send their kids to school because it’s what is best for the economy or the society at large? Probably not common. And 2) I doubt “the culture” would disappear — cultures and societies have existed for millenia without schools.

Now, as to his various points about current schools pumping out standardized kids meant for factory work that doesn’t exist anymore. Sure. But he doesn’t really get into any specific examples for how to solve or reform. Does he? One of the reviews of his book from 2001 — — says essentially the same thing. (That his ideas for fixing things come at the end, and are very conservative.) Too bad but I guess not surprised. You would think he or his editor would have browsed the list of alternative education models at wikipedia as a place to start in educating himself on whether anyone had any interesting ideas about education in the 21st century!
Any divergent/creative thinkers in the educational model arena itself?!?
(Hint: Sudbury Valley School… founded 1968)

Sounds like yet another case of a entertaining talk or nice magazine article being stretched into a book! I should read it first before commenting. Sorry.

A little(?) better is his 2010 TED TALK (TRANSCRIPT)
where he says:
1. “there is a hunger for videos of me.”
2. that an education revolution is needed (vs reform)
3. that education as it is now is destructive — ” education… dislocates very many people from their natural talents.”
4. there is an obsession with getting people to college
5. having a passion changes everything
5. recognizes that things should be personalized, but is still thinking in terms of teachers and curriculum vs the students themselves doing the personalization (which is strange, since it is at odds with his recognition of the passion/motivation issue)

Books from Sir Ken Robinson:
– Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative 2001
– The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything 2009

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Filed under Sudbury Schools and Sudbury Valley School

Play is life

“… play is at the heart of post-industrial education. It is, in its essence, the spontaneous application of all the activities useful in coping with life. In fact, play is coping with life — not “practice” for life, but life itself for those who engage in it.
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Filed under Sudbury Schools and Sudbury Valley School

He’s home!

I don’t know if this is surprising or not, but I am not kidding at all when I say that (on days when I am not involved in the carpool) when A gets back from a day at Sudbury Valley School, it feels pretty much EXACTLY as it did as it does when a parent gets back from work back when you were a kid, or a friend (college housemates), or my spouse. They were missed, and now they are back, and that is pretty much it. I mean, often they are interested in talking about their day and/or I want to hear. But often not. Upon returning back, one sometimes need to shift gears, decompress, whatever. Time to do something else. It’s all life. It’s not ANY different. He is living his life and I am honored to be able to share it with him! Sure, I am still the parent and with that comes a slight difference in some aspects, but not really in this situation, this moment. Maybe this is how all parents feel when their kids return from a traditional school, but I bet not completely since there is homework and grades and MCAS and all that stuff.

Anyway, it feels right.

Here’s how a former student puts it… a little more eloquently:

“Sudbury Valley was just “life” for ten years. It was everything… I woke up in the morning and said, ‘I’m going to school and I’m living life. This is my life and I’m in it.'”

(from “Reflections on the Sudbury School Concept”, 1999, page 125)
I’m sorry, but that is so amazing!

Play Is Life
Khalil Gibran “Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.”

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“Teacheria is the drive to give lessons; it is not curable, but the symptoms can be managed…”
– Naomi Aldort

See also:
– Essay: “The evil of the teaching moment” by Hanna Greenberg
– The discussion of three levels of learning… “curious probing” vs “entertainment style” vs “unstoppable mastery learning” from “Do People Learn from Courses?” in: The Sudbury Valley School Experience, pages 90-99

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Filed under alternative education, homeschooling, Sudbury Schools and Sudbury Valley School, unschooling

Summer with a WORKING hrv – latent vs sensible loads

Last summer our HRV was mostly busted/confused. It was confused by controller wiring and was running in recirc mode where no fresh-air is pulled in. I figured it out using this CO2 meter after being annoyed that CO2 levels (monitored by a Telaire 7001) were not dropping in the house, even when the HRV was running on high/5.

Anyway, the point is, it will be interesting to see if we need to do something like the link below describes this summer. Namely using our standalone dehumidifier to dry the house off since we will probably not often actually need much AC (when it was 100F last summer, we would turn it on just a little at around 5pm). Or maybe the hot-water heat pump will dehumidify things enough even with the HRV bringing in some moist outside air (it’s pretty ridiculously humid at times in the summer here in MA).

Actually, I think the minisplits have a dehumidify mode, but I bet there is a catch.

LINK (see the section “Reduced Heat Gain” and the photo “Photograph 6: Hotel Room Fix”)

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Filed under erik-green, HVAC, passive house, superinsulation, zero energy home

Go small or go home?

Here’s how I see it…. if you are building/renovating a house and you are trying to:

a) build net-zero (primary energy) instead of the typical approach (climate-independent) of keeping utility bills to less than a few thousand dollars (meaning less insulation in warmer climates)


b) not trying to go (too) broke


c) you have good sun

then you have a few options:

1. passivhaus with PV
2. more typical superinsulated with PV
3. passive solar with woodstove and PV
4. active solar (perhaps not with even a woodstove) and PV. Done right, I suspect this active solar can be done on the cheap — the Yahoo Groups SolarHeat and SimplySolar and Gary’s website have some smart people with some ideas. (One needs to be able to get through 5 days of clouds to have 97.5% solar fraction)

In the first two cases, there is some advantage to building a small house. In the latter two, less so, because if the solar thermal (heating & hot water) is sized appropriately, then who cares how big the house is! The sun is free!

From what I can tell so far (our 1-year experience), here are the problems with small/ish houses:
1. It might mean you are building/buying something a little weird or not typical. So if you are unsure how long you will be there, resale could be an issue untill we get to the point that people are generally drooling over superinsulated homes.
2. If you have little kids (and especially if you are in a cold climate and/or don’t live in cohousing with a big shared common house) you might go a little bonkers if you don’t have room to let them run around in circles.
3. Stuff. Junk. Accumulation. (And see #2 if you buy your kids too many useless toys)
4. A smaller sun-facing wall/roof means less room for solar panels.

So, if you are going to build small and have kids, there is some advantage (I think) to building on as few stories as possible. Ignore the “a cube has the least surface area” business. It’s not worth worrying about (too much) if you have kids. Don’t waste room with hallways. But try somehow to have a loop! Keep lots of rooms. Just make them smaller. Don’t be afraid to use point-source heating. We wimped out a bit and have 4-heads to our minisplit system (one per floor). But it would have worked fine with just 2 certainly. I still like a basement. Nice way to get the mechanicals out of above ground places with views. And room for a solar heated water tank.

That’s the view from here.

Do you have kids and live in a small/superinsulated house? Let me know how it’s going? Right now we have 8 people (4 kids under 6, 4 adults) living in what PHPP calls 1741 sqft TFA (treated floor area). And it’s fine. Beat that! Actually, I bet you could. As we built “up”. Do as I say, not as I do! 😉

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Filed under erik-green, heating with wood, passive house, solar, superinsulation, zero energy home

Unix Finger => AIM “Away Messages” => Facebook Status

Just in case you’ve already forgotten, Facebook’s Status messages (2011) have a history that goes back aways. Hot tip: Read about the Unix “finger” command (with Plan/Project info) and AIM “Away Messages”

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Some HRV advice

Here is some quick HRV/ERV advice based on our experience so far:

– Do ASHRAE 62.2 stuff so you get the right flows to right rooms and size the unit appropriately. We run ours on setting 3 of 5, but maybe it would be preferrable to have the slightly larger unit running on 2. Quieter?
– Have duct routes planned out. Don’t leave it to the HVAC contractor to wing
– Keep duct runs short. use Ys not Ts, etc. Generally follow advice from the David Hansen article in JLC LINK
– Ideally get a contractor who has done HRVs before because it seems to me that not everyone is very experienced in balancing using pitot tubes, adjusting registers, taping calerfully, etc, etc, etc, etc. Basically it would be nice for someone who is good at measuring/verifying the installation. In our case, I’ve been left to do most of that.
– Choose a model that has good CFM per watt. Our Lifebreath 155ECM is good on that front, but there are some with even better “efficiency” in terms of heat recovery apparently?
– It’s no joke: having flexible ducting for the first foot or so is KEY in keeping the system quiet. It’s really amazing (ours didn’t at first).

Other random notes:
– We have the typical — exhaust bathrooms, fresh air to bedrooms — setup and find that it works pretty well in the bathrooms, but I’m not convinced it can handle when it’s like a sauna in there all that well. I will have to do some RH measurements. Occasionally we open a window. Once (on a winter day) a window was left 1/4 open and wasn’t noticed for 1/2 a day(?) because the house is so tight that it doesn’t cause much of a draft . Which really means another windows should have been opened if someone wanted to dry it out quickly.
– When it’s like 0F out, our system goes into defrost mode pretty regularly (I will have to check how often) which only affects you in that the fan speed is set to 5, so it will be louder off and on, on very cold winter nights. Maybe some units are better about needing this less? Who knows.
– I’ve also experimented with using a portable… DEHUMIDIFIER… same effect (the air is dried out) but you get to keep the heat you make! If you have space, this is a nice way to go in heating season.
– Consider exhaust-only ventilation with a whispergreen fan and make-up-air hole. There is discussion on about which is “better”. You got me! LINK

– I am going to add some “solar preheating” of the intake air. But according to the PHPP, this would not be enough in our cold new england climate to be able to heat the house. That’s fine.

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Filed under erik-green, HVAC, passive house, solar, superinsulation, zero energy home

Verizon FIOS vs Solar Panels

I just measured it with our handy $20 KILL-A-WATT meter and the FIOS set-top-box… when off (on “standby”)… uses 16W! That’s 24/7. Even if you are not watching TV and carefully turned the thing off.

Here’s the math for a year:
16 * 24 * 365 / 1000 = 140 KWh

If you pay $0.15/KWh then that’s $21 per year you pay** for that. In the Northeast in some city/towns, you probably pay closer to 0.20 or maybe 0.23 if you pay extra for GREEN electricity (Or use NEW ENGLAND WIND FUND if you use a Municipal).

Anyway, the important point is that this is approximately the equivalent to 1/2 of the output of a typical 230W solar-electric PV panel on a reasonably South-facing roof in MA for a year according to PVWATTS.

IOW, turn junk off with a powerstrip! It’s cheaper than buying solar panels!

And Verizon, you can do better! Shame shame! Some things in our house use less than 1W when “turned off”! Not 16W!


**In the winter, this extra 16W is helping to heat your house, but there are much cheaper ways to heat your house than using phantom loads!

See also:
Visualize Energy

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Filed under energy, erik-green, erik-VS, solar

small rhombicosi dodecahedron with magformers

Just a quick note to say that A and I discovered on our own with magformers a shape apparently already named a “small rhombicosi dodecahedron”. It’s a bit of a 2-person job — one person cradling with one person adding pieces — but it’s totally doable. Photo coming soon.

See also:
Icosidodecahedron using Magformers

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Filed under magnatiles / magformers